Keeping It Under Their Hat.

(Please see update at the end of the post… thanks. All photos may be clicked on to enlarge)

Great news!

Disney really seems to be on a roll lately. The big surprise announcement of an Avatar themed addition to Disney’s Animal Kingdom was met with overwhelming support and anticipation. In the Magic Kingdom the new Fantasyland expansion has started to open and has already brought many surprises and great delight to impressed fans. Meanwhile out in California the massive do-over at Disney’s California Adventure is nearing it’s completion.

Rabid Disneyland fans have been enjoying additions such as World of Color and The Little Mermaid attraction for the past year and now even more exciting news is upon us.

Not content with the huge Cars Land addition and the reinvention of the entrance area into period specific Buena Vista Street Walt Disney Imagineering has now announced the “Hat of Dreams” project.

Given the green light by Tom Staggs and put into an accelerated schedule the Hat of Dreams is expected to open up this June along with the rest of the revamped park.

Mystery Imagineer helped DCA reinvent itself with great care.
(Name redacted at request of WDI), Senior Show Producer, Walt Disney Imagineering, has been working on the Buena Vista project for the past five years and is especially excited about the Hat of Dreams. We were lucky enough to snag an exclusive interview with her at the recent press event for the big announcement:

Parkeology: Can you give us an overview of the changes at DCA?

(Name redacted at request of WDI): The expansion of Disney’s California Adventure was designed as a series of projects opening over a five-year period from when it was first announced in fall 2007. In 2008 we opened Toy Story Mania!, a 4-D interactive attraction. In 2009 we re-imagined much the Boardwalk in the Paradise Pier area of the park. In 2010 we unveiled the spectacular World of Color nighttime extravaganza and in 2011 both The Little Mermaid – Ariel’s Undersea Adventure and Goofy’s Sky School opened to great success.

This year the expansion will culminate with two exciting projects – a 12-acre expansion of the Park called Cars Land where we will bring the town of Radiator Springs from the popular Disney·Pixar film “Cars” to life for the first time in a theme park experience.

We are also creating a new main entranceway and front area called Buena Vista Street, designed to resemble Los Angeles, as Walt Disney would have experienced it in the 1920s and 1930s. We’re bringing back the Red Car Trolleys and most importantly an incredible replica of the historic Carthay Circle Theater.

Disney’s original rendering of the Carthay Circle Theater shows some of the
great detail and care being put into this project.
Can you tell us a little bit more about the Carthay Circle Theater?

This was the theater where Snow White premiered in 1937 so it really holds a special place in the hearts of everyone who works at WDI. In many ways it was the starting place of something big, something special and so we felt the need and had a deep desire to represent and respect that heritage.

The Beautiful original theater holds a special and respected place in the heart of the Walt Disney Company.
How did you recreate such a meaningful and special place?

Very Carefully! (Laughs)

There is a quiet dignity to the theater, we knew that we must honor and respect that. We took great care exhaustively researching every detail about the theater. What you will see on opening day is the result of hundreds of people spending thousands of hours to collectively make this a stunning statement not only about the history of our company but also about what Walt Disney Imagineering can do today.

We hand made every single tile, every single sign in fact every single fixture of any sort was hand made with great skill to match the original exactly. Furthermore we used the original plans to build our theater so it is an exact duplicate even under the surface and it is stunning.

However we did not stop there, we actually tracked down the great great grandson of the original construction foreman and hired him to lead the construction on our project as well!

Hand crafted details were poured into the new project, even hand forged nails.
Wow, the great great grandson of the man who led construction on the original theater?

That’s right, the very same gene pool!

Bradly Pendleton was the construction foreman on the project; 100% total authenticity.
And he also happens to be in the construction business?

No, he is the tennis pro at a small country club in Encino but we found him and then let him lead us. We are that dedicated to perfection and authenticity here.

We hand forged every nail using period specific methods; we took paint samples from the original theater and not only matched the colors but also the original manufacturer as well. We hand wove the carpets using Tibetan artisans from the same village that created the red carpets for Snow White’s Premiere. We found a warehouse that still had old stock of roof tiles from the original theater when it was built in 1926. We purchased those at a cost of roughly 50 times what it would be to make them new, even knowing that they are old and brittle and likely will not meet modern building codes, but we are that committed to doing this as authentically as possible.

I have not slept more than 3 hours a night for the past 2 and half years, I stay up pouring over every photograph, rendering and model of the original theater that we can find. Our team is 100% committed to making our version of the Carthay Circle Theater the most jaw dropping, magnificent, beautiful and accurate building that the Walt Disney Company has every produced bar none.

We are all very aware that the original Disney’s California Adventure was considered a let down and a disappointment and a “pile of crap” by many of our fans and therefore we are determined not to make those mistakes again!

Expert craftspeople at work hand weaving the rugs for the theater.
So how does the Hat of Dreams project fit in?

Fans of the Disney Company know about how Walt would motivate all those around him to do the absolute best work they possibly could, he would often add to projects even at the last minute in a desire to “plus” the experience for the guest. Creating the best guest experience was paramount to Walt. It was never about marketing or sales, or anything else, only about creating the best park going experience and we are embracing that attitude.

Earlier this year Tom Staggs, Chairman, Walt Disney Parks and Resorts, came to us with a challenge. He said he wanted more. Even though our Carthay Circle Theater is spectacular, a beautiful and wonderful recreation, authentic in every detail and a majestic new icon to the park Tom still wanted to push us to plus the experience even more. We gathered our team and hunkered down with the full resources of the Walt Disney Company at our disposal. We were given cart blanche to do anything we wanted with the only goal being to surpass all possible expectations.

And the result of this unprecedented missive was a big hat?

YES! A stunningly large hat that we are calling “The Hat of Dreams”. It is located directly in front of the Carthay Circle Theater and though it does slightly obscure the theater we feel that this is exactly what our guests want, what they demand from us and the type of product we have been consistently delivering for the past 15 years or so.

The Hat of Dreams as it will be seen in front of the Carthay Circle Theater.
Please click on all the photos to see them full sized and in more detail.
Is the hat themed in any way?

The theme is “magic” or maybe it is “fun” I’m not really sure. But we crafted a whole story behind it to enhance the guest experience. The story goes that Mickey Mouse fell asleep one day because he was so tired having traveled with Walt all the way out to California. So he falls asleep and dreams that he is a giant mouse, can you imagine such a thing! So this giant Mickey Mouse visits Disneyland and has so much fun that he needs to rest so he lays down in this area near the park to take a nap and then he wakes up…

And his giant hat is still there…

YES! A giant hat! We are all so very excited about this. Mickey wakes up and is normal mouse size but the giant hat is still here and therefore maybe it was a dream or maybe it was real… who knows! It is sort of like the movie “Inception”.

Um, I’m not sure where to start with this. If this was in 1920s or 1930s as you said was the time-period for the new area then Disneyland did not exist yet. Forget about it. Are you at all concerned that your work on the theater will be diminished with the addition of a huge metal novelty hat?

Not just metal! That baby is going to light up like Christmas! We have thousands of yards of twinkly lights and neon jammed in there as well, plus lasers out the wazoo, it’s quite a sight to behold. And also to hear; we have over 50,000 watts of audio power blasting out techno dance mixes of famous Disney songs by some of our stars such as Miley Cyrus. We really want to have a hip edgy feel to it. As Imagineers we learn that we must be flexible, we must adapt and change and so this is a reaction to what our guests tell us they want.

Quiet Dignity
What have they told you they want? 

Pins, Lots and lots of pins and pin purchasing opportunities! When we reviewed the Disney California Adventure experience we realized that our guests wanted more opportunities to purchase things. We were not providing a strong enough retail experience and so the hat will actually house a pin trading and purchasing opportunity… but mostly for purchasing. This is a great example of how we have answered the original criticism of DCA head on! 

Disney sweet heart Miley Cyrus and others have contributed to the new
sound track for the Hat of Dreams Dance Party
Was there any apprehension about building a large cartoon hat / dance club / light show / pin store in an area otherwise so delicately themed and tied to a specific time period? 

Nah…. we don’t think people notice that kind if thing too much so we don’t sweat it. Just look at this rendering… that hat is awesome! We believe that Walt would have loved a hat like that! Plus Harry Potter is like SUPER popular these days isn’t he? I think he wears some sort of crazy wizard hat just like this; in fact I am pretty sure that’s where we got the idea.

Didn’t the inspiration come from Fantasia?

Fanta-what’s that now?

This scale model shown at the press event reveals the carefully thought out
relationship between the hat and the theater.
Never mind… Hasn’t Disney already done something similar to this at Disney-MGM Studios (now Disney’s Hollywood Studios) in Florida? 

I’m sorry, I’m not familiar with that park you mentioned, is it new?

Thank you very much for your time and we look forward to seeing what type of reaction the Hat of Dreams gets you… good luck with that. 

Thank you as well and keep a sharp eye on the look out for more magical surprises yet to come!


Yes, we were really contacted by WDI and asked to remove the names of any real life Imagineers.  

To be clear (and really stating the absurdly obvious here…) this entire post (except this little last part) is an April Fools joke… there is no big hat in DCA (sadly there really is one in Disney’s Hollywood Studios) and we appreciate the sense of humor of WDI.  

You will not find bigger fans of WDI than those around the Parkeology offices.  We do not know the Imagineer who was previously quoted here and she had nothing whatsoever to do with the article. We are however looking forward to seeing her actual work at DCA this June.

Walt Disney: Junior Time Traveller

Disney California Adventure is sort of like an alcoholic that has managed to stay sober for over a year now. We’re all very proud. Doesn’t mean we trust it to drive the kids home from the New Year’s party, but we’re glad it has turned its life around.

A lot of this progress is due to a clever approach in show development, and this approach is called: Don’t be a mall. If you’re going to steal, steal from the best, and DCA is stealing everything it can from its sister park next door: nighttime spectaculars, Fantasyland dark rides,  exclusive membership clubs, themed main streets. Don’t be surprised if Disney soon announces the opening of Walt’s private apartment, where he used to stay when dreaming up his ideal ferris wheels and rotating swing rides.

Also, there’s this new statue being planned for DCA’s Buena Vista Street. I’m sure you’ve heard of it. Disney has put forth several official statements about this statue, how it is supposed to represent Walt as he just stepped off the train from Kansas City, ready to embark on his own California Adventure. It’s a bookend to the story that concludes with the Partners statue in Disneyland, which shows Walt as king of the Magic Kingdom. This is fresh-faced Walt, before the smoker’s cough, before Mickey, before even Oswald. All he has are his dreams. And his luggage.

This is a “study maquette” displayed at DCA’s Blue Sky gallery. Procrastinating students with no time to study may be interested in the Cliff Notes Maquette. Am I right?

Unlike the Partners statue, there is no pedestal for this version of Walt. The official explanation goes something like “Here he is just a commoner like us, he hasn’t been elevated above us.” It’s a little insulting and reeks of vague cost-saving measures. But I’ll forgive it.

I do tend to go a bit ballistic over all the luggage. What’s he doing with an engraved trunk? Is this canon? I thought the lore was Walt had only a beat up old suitcase when he stepped off the train from Kansas City. Sort of like what Mickey has. What’s Mickey even doing in the statue? He wasn’t created yet. Oh, but he was in Walt’s head and heart, he just wasn’t a star yet. The old Roger Rabbit explanation for anachronisms. Fine, I’ll buy it. Mickey wasn’t a star, he lived in Kansas City, and one day he happened to hook up with commoner Walt Disney as they both stepped off the train on their way to seek their fortunes.

And then I saw this picture.

Do you spot anything here? I’ll give you a hint. Look at the fingers. That’s a wedding ring, if I’m not mistaken. The only problem is that Walt didn’t get married until a couple years after he moved to L.A. Did Lilly know about his first wife? Because Mickey sure did.

Look, I don’t expect Imagineers to be experts on every single tidbit of Walt’s life, but I would expect them to have the basic timeline straight.

Anyway, I suppose I’m being too harsh. These pictures are all from the Blue Sky Cellar, and were probably conceptual anyway. Other versions of the statue do not seem to have the wedding ring. So maybe it’s a detail that was caught and fixed. But it certainly felt good to rant for a bit. Especially following a holiday that is all about being thankful.

Special thanks to Andy Castro, who runs the absolutely phenomenal Dateline Disneyland blog over at miceage. The pics are all his.